Kobe has almost too many jobs to count.
Okay, sure, we all know that Kobe Bryant’s job is to play basketball for the Los Angeles Lakers...on the surface anyways.
In reality, it goes much deeper than that. There are many smaller tasks and responsibilities that go along with that title: the jobs and obligations that go along with simply being Kobe Bryant.
Just saying that he’s a basketball player is nowhere near adequate to describe Kobe Bryant’s job with the Lakers. His job boils down to a lot of different things such as:
Rashard Lewis via Seattlepi.com’s Gary Washburn (2007):
He's an unbelievable player. He's God's gift, something that's going to flash before our eyes and I don't think it's every going to happen again. The only person I can think about he's catching up with is Michael Jordan.
When you first think of Kobe Bryant, chances are that the image that comes to mind isn’t of his suffocating defense or of his five Championship Ring, but Kobe rocking the rim with a dunk or twisting around for a seemingly impossible fadeaway jumper.
Because that’s just what he does.
Kobe’s always been a scorer. He’s averaged over 20 points per game for 13 straight years now (with a career average of 25.5) and is well on his way to making this year No. 14. In the 2005-06 season he became the first player to average 35 or more points per game since Michael Jordan did it in the 1987-88 season. He’s always been tasked with scoring a big chunk of the Lakers’ points.
Kobe’s one of the few guys in league history who can have games like his 81-point explosion against the Toronto Raptors or even his 42-point performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers this season, in which he makes scoring look absolutely effortless; games where any miss, be it a fadeaway 30-footers, halfcourt heaves, anything, doesn't just surprise you, it genuinely feels unnatural. That’s who he is.
Lakers' director of video services, Chris Bodaken, via the Los Angeles Times’ Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner (2008):
Hands down, he's the biggest video fiend we've ever had. I didn't know if it was possible to be more competitive than Magic was, but I think he might be. It carries over into his preparation, and this is part of that.
Not all work gets done in the gym. If a player really wants to be prepared for a game, he’s got to watch some tape.
What’s amazing about Kobe—and what makes his obsession with game film so important—is that watching film helps him on more than a game-to-game basis. Obviously it’s great to learn a player or a team’s tendencies, but watching film has actually almost completely molded Kobe’s game.
Kobe isn’t an unprecedented completely original prototype. As ESPN.com’s Jackie MacMullan expertly broke down a few years ago, Kobe’s game has been carefully crafted by watching tape of former NBA greats. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have a few original moves of his own but, on the whole, Kobe is like a patchwork quilt of former-superstars.
If you watch a few Lakers games with that in mind, you’ll catch it pretty easily. You’ll see Hakeem Olajuwon’s post moves, Michael Jordan’s fadeaway and Jerry West’s pull-up.
Kobe’s been able to incorporate into his game some of the best moves from the greatest players in history. His ability to emulate the form of some of the game's best in their respective facets of the game is crucial to his success, a combination of techniques collectively original.
All it took (and continues to take) is some grainy film and some time in front of a TV.
Working harder than anyone else:
Metta World Peace via BasketBlog’s Mike Trudell (2010):
Every team I was on I was always the hardest worker … I didn’t know what to expect from Kobe. I saw for myself he’s the hardest worker. He’s the franchise. He would practice every day if he could, but with injuries he couldn’t. When he was out there, he was the hardest worker, defensively and offensively. And getting to the gym at six in the morning. I’m like, yeah, that’s who I want to lead me.
You can love him or hate him, but you have to at least respect the fact that he works his butt off.
By all accounts, Kobe is the first guy to get to practice and the last guy to leave. He keeps himself in fantastic shape. Heck, the guy’s willing to stay after games to put up shots. He never stops searching for a way to get even one iota better. It’s the main reason that he’s still so effective at his age.
In the era of Allen Iverson’s practice rant, of guys like Vince Carter and Derrick Coleman, guys with all of the talent but none of the drive, Kobe has always been willing to put in the extra time. He’s made it his job.
Even the most ardent Kobe haters have to admit that that’s pretty impressive.
Kobe Bryant via USA TODAY’s David DuPree (2006):
It's about getting the (wins) and nothing else. I can't let what people think or say about me bother me.
Every superstar gets too much credit when their team wins and too much blame when it loses. That’s what the role entails. But, when it comes to Kobe, the criticism is on a different level entirely.
Kobe’s job isn’t just to absorb this criticism, but to make sure that it never dictates his style of play. A fair bit of the criticism that Kobe gets is justified and it certainly wouldn’t hurt him to adjust his game a bit. Adjustments are fine. His job is to never allow that doubt to cause him to doubt himself.
Look at LeBron James as an example. In both the 2009-10 and 2010-11 Playoffs, LeBron clearly let the critics get to him. He became unsure and tentative. He simply wasn’t LeBron anymore. Of course, in last year’s playoffs, he finally shrugged off the naysayers, played the game that defines King James and became a one-man wrecking crew. He didn’t let outsiders dictate the way he played.
If the Lakers need one guy to be sure of himself at all times, it’s Kobe. To this point, he’s done wonderfully in that regard.
Being a leader:
Phil Jackson via ESPN.com’s J.A. Adande (2009) :
He's learned how to become a leader in a way in which people want to follow him. That's really important for him to have learned that because he knew that he had to give to get back in return, and so he's become a giver rather than just a guy that's a demanding leader. That's been great for him and great to watch.
You may not agree with Kobe’s “tough love” brand of leadership, but it’s hard to deny that he’s become the sole leader of the Lakers. He’s their driving force.
The thing is Kobe has improved as a leader. Kobe used to seem distant from his teammates. He led by example, but contributed little outside of his play on the court. He wasn’t even close to their ideal leader.
Things have changed now. Kobe may call out his teammates (like he recently did with Pau Gasol), but there’s nothing vindictive about it anymore. Just days after calling out Pau, Kobe said (via ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne):
I love Pau like a brother. I really do. I want him to dominate like I know he can. I want him to dig in and be determined, not discouraged.
The Kobe of old would never have said that. But, like Jackson said, Kobe has become a leader who gives as well as takes. He may be a bit abrasive at times, but he’s become the motivator that the Lakers need.
Playing elite defense:
Brandon Jennings via USA TODAY’s David Leon Moore (2013):
I don't think I've ever seen anybody put that much pressure on a point guard full court for a whole game. It was probably the best defense somebody's ever played on me since I've been in the league - just constantly putting pressure on me, touching me, hitting me at all times in the game.
Sure, some were reputation picks, but players don’t make 12 All-Defense teams without knowing how to play at least a little defense. Kobe can flat-out defend.
Kobe has been roundly (and deservedly) criticized for his defense this season, some of which stems from the fact that expectations for Kobe’s defense are so high to begin with. He’s been lax in terms of off-ball defense this season but, as evidenced by this Jennings quote, Kobe’s still more than capable of locking down defenders.
What’s crazy is that Kobe still has to shoulder such a defensive responsibility at his age. Outside of a banged-up Dwight Howard, the Lakers have literally no strong individual defenders. That means that it’s essentially up to Kobe to shut down the top scorer on the opposing team while maintaining his level of offensive production.
Outside of LeBron, no one in the league has more offensive and defensive responsibility than Kobe does...and he’s in his 17th season. Insane.
Adjusting with age:
Mark Jackson via the Los Angeles Times’ Ted Green (2010):
Take a look at Kobe Bryant. You wonder, when is he gonna get back to that live body, the guy who carried the Laker offense and seemed invincible? Right now, his moves offensively are more like a grind. It's a struggle to score. Guys are doing a great job defending him.
This is a job that’s been a few years in the making. Basically, Kobe has had to adjust to being old.
When he was younger, Kobe was able to successfully beat everyone off the dribble. He relentlessly attacked the rim. Every other part of his game played off of and followed his natural abilities.
Now? Not so much. Kobe no longer has the pure athleticism to get to the rack the way he used to. Yet he’s remained effective because he’s steadily been improving the parts of his game that aren’t reliant on elite athleticism.
For example, over the past few years, Kobe has developed his post game into perhaps the best in the NBA. His 1.12 points per possession on post-ups (via Synergy Sports Technology) ranks second overall in the league and he shoots a blistering 60 percent on post-up attempts.
Kobe’s also been relying more and more on the deep ball. His 6.1 three-point attempts per game are just .4 shy of his career high and he’s connecting on almost 37 percent of his deep attempts.
The result has been Kobe’s most efficient season ever. His true shooting percentage (58.4 percent) is a career high, per Basketball-Reference.com. He had to learn how to remain effective while getting older, a continuing process that, at 34, he is fully in the midst of.
Playing through injury:
Kobe Bryant via the ESPN.com news wire (2003):
I've played with IV's before, during and after games. I've played with a broken hand, a sprained ankle, a torn shoulder, a fractured tooth, a severed lip, and a knee the size of a softball.
We’ve officially hit the point where we expect Kobe to play no matter what happens to him, right? For example, if a buddy told you that Kobe was in some kind of accident and broke both of his arms and one of his legs, your reaction wouldn’t be, “Oh wow, I hope he’s okay,” it would probably be, “He’s still got a leg, huh? Game’s not until 8:30…okay, yeah, he’ll play.”
Has any other NBA player been injured as much and still seemed indestructible? It’s unprecedented. No matter what his state of health is, Kobe will be in the starting lineup. The Lakers might not ask it of him, but he delivers it nonetheless.
Dealing with fans:
Via ESPN The Magazine’s Rick Reilly (2009):
People are pulling up next to us and waving. And screaming. And taking pictures with their cell phones. And honking. And craning back in their seats to see. And not watching the road. And getting too damn close. And Kobe doesn't seem to see any of it.
If he’s not being pestered by a defender, Kobe’s probably being pestered by a fan and Kobe has to actually be nice to the fans, or at least try.
As detailed in Reilly’s article, some of Kobe’s rabid fans can be, well, rabid. But Kobe must deal with them. That might mean signing autographs, posing for pictures or just plain ignoring them. But they’re always there and it will always be Kobe’s job to interact with them in a positive way.
Taking over in crunch time:
Kobe Bryant via ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin (2012) :
I definitely much rather shoot it than pass it. That's just how I am.
Ho boy. This one’s controversial.
The “Kobe is clutch” vs. “Kobe isn’t clutch” debate will probably rage on forever and for good reason. It’s a pretty complicated issue.
But there is no debate when it comes to which Laker is getting the ball in crunch time. It’s No. 24. Self-appointed or not, it’s Kobe’s job to take over when the game gets down to the wire. Whether or not that’s always what’s best for the team is a question for another article.
Jerry West via Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard (2012):
I think you need imagination to accomplish great things in life, and it has to be vivid. Regardless of what Kobe accomplished, it was never enough.
This is probably the only part of Kobe’s job that he’s never had to work at.
Kobe will always be hungry. Nothing will ever be enough for him. That’s just how he’s wired.
Kobe’s greatest trait—his defining characteristic—has and always will be his force of will. He wants to be the best. He wants everyone to know he’s the best and he’ll do anything on Earth to remain tops in the game. He is in constant pursuit of basketball perfection.
So there it is. A complete job description of Kobe Bryant. The only question that remains is: How does he do it all?